In March 2022, more than 390,000 people who called 999 with emergencies including suspected stroke waited for an average of over one hour for an ambulance to arrive, as per recent data from the UK National Health Service (NHS).
Ambulance data released by NHS England on 14 April show that the average response time to category 2 emergencies like stroke was 61 minutes—more than three times the 18-minute response time target, according to a press release from the UK Stroke Association. The 90th centile target of 40 minutes also was not met, as this took two hours and 17 minutes in March 2022.
Juliet Bouverie, chief executive of the Stroke Association, said: “Stroke is a medical emergency and every minute is critical. I am incredibly worried that this deepening crisis situation for the ambulance service could have life-threatening consequences for thousands of stroke patients. Over the past few years, ambulance delays and the time taken for stroke patients to get appropriate treatments have both crept up. But now we are seeing wait times at a record and dangerous high. Ambulance delays have a domino effect—resulting in delayed or missed chances for treatment and can result in severe disability or worse death.
“We are hugely grateful to ambulance call handlers, paramedics and stroke clinicians who are working tirelessly under extreme pressure, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But, despite their best efforts, systemic challenges are severely compromising ambulance response and hospital treatment times. And we are hearing shocking accounts from stroke survivors who have had waited hours for an ambulance. Long ambulance delays are a symptom of a failing health and social care system. There is a perfect storm of pressures, with soaring demand for services, a shortfall of hospital and care home beds, and staff shortages, resulting in a failure to get people in, through, and out, of hospitals into follow-up care.
“We are extremely worried at the Stroke Association that stroke survivors’ lives and recoveries are being put at extreme risk. The complex pressures on emergency services need addressing immediately or this crisis will escalate into the summer and autumn, bringing untold misery to stroke patients and their families. Government and NHS leaders must act now to address immediate issues—including ambulance delays and transfers, handover at A&E [accident and emergency], in-hospital care and patient discharge—and provide resources and funding to create sustainable emergency care for the future.
“Despite these ongoing challenges, our advice to the public remains the same. If you spot the signs of a stroke in you or someone else, it is vital to call 999 straight away. This lines up getting scanned and seen by a stroke specialist as soon as possible when you arrive at hospital, giving you or a loved one the best chance of survival and recovery.”
As seen below, the data released by NHS England earlier this month indicate average ambulance response times across the UK, as well as more granular findings between several different regions.